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Transforming Passion into Livelihood--The Bittersweet Truth By Ollie Mealing

Updated: Dec 3, 2021


Roughly ten years ago, I decided I wanted to do nothing more than make a career out of what I enjoy – since then, I've been stubborn and also lucky enough to never look back.

At the time of that decision, I had no idea of what I was really getting myself into, but simply that I would fearlessly embrace whatever lay ahead and keep on going, until I got it ‘right'.

"I’d rather be a failure at something I love than a success at something I hate”

– George Burns

In this post, I thought we’d park all things related to performance and creation, to chat candidly about what it’s actually like, to drop it all and go for it – the psychological experience of transforming one's passion into a livelihood. This won’t be a class on ‘how to get gigs’, but rather a blunt offering of bittersweet truths and some consequent coping mechanisms.

The enticing notion of ‘do what you love’, is engulfed in an abundance of treacherously, short-sighted and damaging advice. I aim to offer some of the lesser spoken, but far more constructive truths, that mentally coexist with us, as we frantically chase our dreams – which is exactly that, a constant chase, in order to keep the ‘dream alive’. Despite this seemingly pessimistic start, this issue is not intended as a criticism or deterrent for anyone wishing to follow their dream, in fact I wholly recommend it – but consider this a cautionary foreword, on the emotional resilience necessary, in order to navigate it's fraught laden path. Again, I’ll begin with a ‘what the hell are you doing’, ‘can’t you see how crazy this is’ sort of angle, but then I’ll satisfyingly flip it round to say ‘with all that in mind, go for it’ – so relax, by the end, everything will be coming up Milhouse.

“When everything seems to be going against you, remember that the airplane takes off against the wind, not with it.”

– Henry Ford

Deciding to go full time in magic, is a tougher undertaking than the falsehood we're lead to believe – like a moth to a flame, we’re often unaware of the risks we’ll encounter. We're happily sold the idea that working for yourself is a wonderful, yellow brick road, whereas the reality of starting out is more of a rivalling chaos. Our aim is to hit the ground running, but problematically, we can’t guarantee when a work enquiry will come in, what it’ll be, where it'll be or even how much we’ll get paid. So right off the bat, we’re now bereft of structure, control and financial stability. Secondly is the emotional exhaustion, when we’re not working, we’re having to seek it – this not only takes up a huge amount of time, but as only a small percentage of our efforts will pay off, the disheartenment alone can defeat us. Working for yourself, also means that most of our time is spent alone – these long periods devoid of human interaction, can not only make us lonely, but deprive us from the stimulation and learning opportunities that come with being part of a team. If our time and wellbeing isn’t managed correctly, then these difficulties can soon manifest themselves into stress, burning us out and/or worse, causing us to resent magic – both of course, completely counter- productive to our pursuit. If we’re to psychologically survive the hardships of starting out, we must adopt a befitting state of mind, one that gives us the courage to continue – one that develops positives from negatives. Without an optimistic attitude or philosophy in place, starting out can become a draining and disheartening experience – we must realise how to love the journey. If we don’t love or learn to love what we do, then really why do it all – our time is too precious to be spent perpetuating a life we don’t enjoy.

“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

When you compare the draw of either 'going solo’ against a 'regular job’, where the immediate incentives of a steady income, schedule, social interaction, sense of control and structure are conveniently served upon a plate, you can begin to see how much courage or inner-strength is required to take the path less trodden. To stretch outside of our comfort zone, is to make ourselves vulnerable. But it’s vulnerability, that’s perhaps our greatest resource for promoting personal- growth, because by challenging it, we’re forced to learn how to adapt – which in turn, expands our comfort zone and allows the process to continue (throwback – tip 11). So much of what we do is ruled by our comfort zone or fear boundaries – that we’re often oppressed into being who we think we should be (a fictional-self), rather than actualising who we really are. Without expanding our comfort zone, our actions favour the approval and judgements of others, but by increasing our personal-growth, we gain confidence, freeing ourselves to let go of worrying about what others think and start recognising/embracing are authentic-self. Authenticity is the courage to be yourself, to not let fear decide your future, but to be comfortable with being uncomfortable and to revel in the freedom that it brings – positioning us for constant growth. It’s our personal development that determines whether we straightjacket or springboard our professional development.

“The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.”

– Joseph Campbell

When we’re concerned with seeking approval, we get caught up in perfectionism, we develop a phobia of being imperfect. We're happy to flaunt our successful results but prefer to mask the imperfect struggle or mistakes we faced in getting there. The incessant portrayal of successful results, not only dysfunctionally instils flawed ideas, but perpetuates a belittling of the struggle – which is really what we should be ascribing value to. Whether we succeed or fail in our endeavours is just a result, it's the tip of the iceberg, whereas it’s the carpet-swept struggle that’s the real measure of our integrity – it’s how much we fought that counts, our stamina, our ability to bounce back, to learn from mistakes and persevere towards a finish line. The struggle is what makes us vulnerable, opening us up to personal-growth. Our goals shouldn’t be in the direction of superficial results, but towards enduring lessons of self-discovery, intrapersonal intelligence – to grow you, not the approval of others. Feeling you have to compare or compete with others isn’t just debilitating, it’s a superficial goal – nothing of real value will come of it, because it’s not addressing the inner problem. The hedonic treadmill, is the idea that once we’ve got what we wanted, we get used to it and begin to crave something else – external factors don't offer a permanent happiness. Happiness always comes from within – the choice to respond negatively or positively to our circumstances. So whether we reach our goal or not, we should think of the payoff as being the experience in between.

"You can neither win nor lose if you don’t run the race.”

– David Bowie

The notion of an overnight success is a process that usually takes many years and even then isn’t promised. If we were a lot more honest about our true efforts behind the scenes, we’d promote a much healthier emphasis towards the thrill of taking part, rather than glorifying the aspect of winning (tip 41 – live for the journey not the destination). With this state of mind, we'd be less likely to compare our struggle to someone else's success – as we’d see the struggle as the fun, exciting learning curve, offering us with a much richer vantage point. Any success of course isn’t to be scoffed at, we’re entitled to to feel proud, but we should perhaps see it more as a bonus, not the be-all and end-all. I think another worthy point to consider is luck – its a far bigger contributor to success than our egos would like to give credit for. With that said, I do believe that we make our own luck. Regardless, with luck or success (however you wish to see it), we're eventually brought back to the hedonic treadmill, so it really is the taking part we should most appreciate, the journey. It’s being involved and focused on something meaningful that matters to us – after any spikes in our career, life still continues, we don't just find ourselves sitting complacently proud, we’re hungry for more because its the adventure, the learning, the friendships, the stories, the entire journey, that enriches us.

‘Things work out best for those who make the best of how things work out.’

– John Wooden

So anyway, this went on further than I anticipated, but what I’ve been trying to say is that without taking risks, come fewer rewards. Should you pursue your passion? Well with the right state of mind, expectations and courage, yes, absolutely go for it.

“May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears.” – Nelson Mandela


I know I say it a lot, but again, thank you all so much for joining me in this read, your company is wonderful.


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